Education inequalities are one of the most glaring ways to manifest wider regional disparities in the UK.
Where a child was born and raised has become an increasingly powerful determinant of their level of education. In regions that have endured deep economic hardship, educational prospects are compromised from an early age. This further reduces opportunities for individuals and stifles the economic potential of their communities.
For too long, education has been a distant priority for government. Despite the commitment to increase funding for schools, spending per student is expected to remain below 2009 levels. Cuts in higher education were even greater. Worse still, evidence has emerged showing that it is the most deprived areas that have suffered the biggest funding cuts during the decade of austerity.
However, new research from the Center for Progressive Policy (CPP) suggests that the damage that underinvestment has inflicted on the education sector is part of a much larger challenge for children today.
Although the classroom remains of primary importance, it is only part of the environment in which children are raised. The wider environment in which children have grown up plays a vital role in fostering aspiration, ambition and the ability to engage.
In too many communities, children have felt the sting of poverty and the desperation that accompanies lack of opportunity, which has inevitably had an impact on their education.
A series of interviews with young people from communities facing deprivation in the North West of England revealed that many found it difficult to concentrate on school when they faced difficulties in their personal lives.
These sentiments were shared by teachers from various institutions, who are only too aware of the challenges faced by the young people they accompany on a daily basis. Valiant efforts are being made by school and college staff to minimize the impact of these challenges, whether it is subsidizing travel for their students to and from college or organizing on-site food banks to their families.
Among young people themselves, there is a remarkable resilience.
Many spoke of the importance of their school as a link to their community, helping to guide them as they progressed into adulthood. However, we also heard stories of insufficient attention given to students, a lack of awareness of what was to come next, and a lack of support during difficult times, including dealing with mental health issues or transitioning. to secondary education.
It is important to recognize the efforts of educators and parents who are trying to overcome the economic difficulties they themselves face. However, broader government policy failed to provide adequate support.
Welfare cuts led to a steady increase in working and child poverty in the years leading up to the pandemic. Children’s mental health services have faced financial pressures as demand has increased. The new “family hubs” are only a shadow of the Sure Start program of the previous decade.
To improve educational attainment, we need more investment in schools and colleges.
However, we also need a strategy to rethink the living conditions of children. The government must recognize that educational outcomes are not just the product of schooling, but are strongly influenced by the material and social circumstances that children experience on a daily basis.
This is why the CPP calls for a broader approach to prioritizing the well-being of children and supporting their development in education and beyond. As a starting point, it is essential that the pupil premium is restored to its maximum real value of £1,782 per pupil, equalized between primary and secondary schools and widened to include pupils in higher education. This should be part of an increased funding deal for schools and colleges, and not require cuts elsewhere in education budgets.
In addition, investments must be made in the social protection system to help alleviate the scourge of child poverty. Children cannot concentrate in the classroom when they are hungry, denied equipment or face the wider pressures associated with low income.
The government must commit not only to increasing the child element of the universal credit and child tax credits in line with inflation, but to reverse previous cuts and remove the two-child limit, which has plunged so many people in poverty.
In addition, investment should be made in the creation of family and community hubs.
So many schools and colleges are an integral part of their community, it’s important to use these invaluable resources to their fullest potential, as well as create new hubs for families and communities. This would allow families to reunite and access vital services in a supportive environment.
To achieve such an ambitious agenda, the government must change its approach to education. Many ministries play a role in shaping children’s well-being and development, and action should be coordinated across government.
However, action must also be coordinated within the communities themselves. Parents, teachers, local employers and government officials should all be encouraged and motivated to work more closely to support the next generation.
Economic growth has been a hot topic in recent months, but we will never achieve sustainable growth until millions of children can reach their potential.
It is vital that the new Prime Minister takes a more proactive stance on education, to expand opportunities, create new pathways and invest in the institutions that children rely on.
By creating the best possible environments inside and outside the classroom, we can unlock the potential of countless children, who in turn will drive the economy forward, creating growth that benefits everyone and ensuring better education for future generations.
By Dean Hochlaf, Research Analyst, Center for Progressive Policy
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